Rebellion Publishing, owners of 2000AD, announced an all-new 48-page special title The Vigilant earlier this week, the lead strip written by Simon Furman, with art by Simon Coleby coloured by Len O’Grady.
Breathing new life into Fleetway characters acquired in 2016, the project is a further building block for the evolving “Rebellion-verse”, an interconnected world of superheroes but with a very British ethos and outlook.
It’s a project that has been welcomed by many, but 2000AD creator Pat Mills has voiced concerns about creator rights, arguing that the original creators should be recompensed in some way for their work.
“This looks like an impressive revival of stories that were loved by the readers, he says in a post about the project‘s cover on his Millsverse site. “But I think it’s regrettable if the original creators of these characters, or their estates, were not financially rewarded for their popular stories being rebooted. I doubt that is the case here.”
One of the characters, Doctor Sin, is in fact one of Pat’s early creations with artist Horacio Lalia, who Pat told us was his take on Judge Dredd – who he believes IPC renamed to use in the 1979 2000AD annual.
“That also makes me less than happy,” he says. “This is just old school foraging other people’s talent and, without financial reward, is unacceptable in this day and age.”
This wider discussion aside – your views very welcome below! – here’s a quick guide to the original versions of some of the characters that will feature in this special title, identifying their creators where known. My thanks to everyone who helped assemble the information – all noted below.
First Appearance: Thunder Issue One, October 1970
Created by Thunder editor Jack LeGrand, writer Tom Tully and artist Tom Kerr
Initially written by Tom Tully and drawn by Tom Kerr
Revived for “The Vigilant” by Simon Furman, Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady, lettered by Simon Bowland
We’ve covered the history of Adam Eterno a fair bit recently, coincidentally wondering what plans Rebellion had for the character only for them to break the news about The Vigilant just two days later!
First appearing in Thunder Issue One, published in October 1970 alongside the bat controlling villain Black Max and the World War Two robot Steel Commando (both revived for last year’s Scream and Misty Special).
An alchemist’s assistant in the 16th century, a job with a number of risks and few prospects, who drank the elixir of life and was cursed by the alchemist Erasmus Hemlock to live forever. The only thing that could kill him was a mortal blow from a weapon made of solid gold. After living for centuries, by Thunder Issue Three he was hit by a gold-plated car – which knocked him into the time stream, becoming an eternal warrior for justice…
• John Bonner “Jack” Le Grand joined Amalgamated Press at the age of 16 in 1936, working as an office boy under editor Fred Cordwell. Returning to the company after World War Two (during which he saw action with the London Irish in North Africa and Italy and as a glider pilot in 1944, carrying troops to the Battle of Arnhem), he became a sub-editor on Film Fun, again under Cordwell, where he also wrote numerous scripts, becoming the title’s editor after Phil Davis, who replaced Cordwell after his death in 1948.
He went on to become managing editor of a group of comics that included Buster, Valiant, The Big One, Hurricane, Giggle and Jet. He co-created “The Steel Claw”, with Ken Mennell and Sid Bicknell, and “Adam Eterno”. His work on the post-ban Action, effectively sanitising the title after the controversy it had caused, remains much discussed. Jack died in Havering, Essex, on 7th February 1986.
• Tom Tully was a prolific and gifted comics writer, the longest-running writer of Roy of the Rovers. His credits range from “The Steel Claw” for Valiant to “Kelly’s Eye” for Knockout and “Look out for Lefty” for Action; and, among other strips, “Harlem Heroes” and “Dan Dare” for 2000AD. For me, “The Mind of Wolfie Smith” is one of his best later tales.
He passed away in Autumn 2013.
“Tom lived next door to my Aunt and Uncle for years, and ran one of our local pubs,” Moose Harris, who founded the Sevenpenny Nightmare site now hosted on downthetubes recalled in a post on the ComicsUK forum. “He was still writing for Battle, 2000AD and RotR whilst running the pub. He used to knock out episodes of ‘Johnny Red’ and ‘Roy’ in an office room above the bar during the afternoon.
“He moved to The Cross Keys on Rowde, and kept a house in Lavington. After his wife died, he carried on running the pub with his son Joe, up until he retired. Comics work was long behind him at this point, and although he tried to get into children’s books he didn’t have a lot of success.
“He wasn’t really a private sort, he was always happy to talk about his work over a few after hours pints. I was amazed when he admitted to writing ‘Death Game 1999’ [for Action], but looking at ‘Inferno’, it made sense. I’d always thought he was more ‘Dan Dare’, ‘Johnny Red and ‘Roy’ when I knew him, but it turned out he was capable of a dark and violent tale if needed.
“I tried to chase him down for an interview in 2010 or 2011 but I was told he wasn’t interested in talking about his work anymore.
“Next I heard was just after his funeral in late 2013. A lot of the local landlords attended and I heard about his passing from one of them, who ran the pub opposite Tom’s.”
• Artist Tom Kerr‘s contributions to British comics include ‘Black Axe’, ‘The Saxon Avenger’ for Buster, ‘The Avengers’ for TV Comic and some early episodes of ‘Adam Eterno’ for Thunder.
“Tom’s one of the unsung heroes of British comics,” feels Dez Skinn, who hired him to create a look for a Fleetway version of Captain Britain long before Marvel UK created theirs.
“Tom didn’t get the [Captain Britain] gig,” Skinn recalls of Fleetway’s proposed project. “It went (wisely) to Eric Bradbury, whose version still didn’t capture the sense of wonder the US had refined over the years.”
As Steve Holland noted on Bear Alley back in 2007, Tom had a career that lasted at least 30 years (his first known work dated 1946) and he worked on some of the most popular titles of the 1960s and early 1970s – Knockout, Valiant, Princess, Buster, Jag, Lion, Eagle, Thunder, Jet… “there weren’t many Fleetway titles that he didn’t contribute to,” Steve notes. “To this list you can add TV21, Lady Penelope, Solo and Look-In to his CV.”
His career seems to have ended in the 1970s.
The Leopard from Lime Street
First Appearance: Buster, cover dated 27th March 1976
Created by Tom Tully and Mike Western
Billy gained superhuman strength, speed, reflexes and tree-climbing abilities after being scratched by a radioactive leopard called Sheba while taking photos at Professor Jarman’s experimental zoo for his school magazine.
The Leopard from Lime Street returned, grown up, in last year’s Scream and Misty Special.
• One of the giants of British comics, Mike Western, laid down his pen for the last time on Tuesday, 13th May 2008, at the age of 83.
His credits, spanning decades of British comics, included “The Wild Wonders” for Valiant; “The Leopard of Lime Street” for Buster; “Darkie’s Mob”, “HMS Nightshade” and “The Sarge” for Battle and many, many more fantastic strips.
In 2005, a special issue of the fanzine Eagle Flies Again celebrated the work of this great artist to mark his 80th birthday. There’s an online, updated version of one of the features of the issue here on downthetubes. Tributes and memories from British comics creators and downthetubes readers to Mike appear on this page.
Mike Western didn’t have particular ambitions to become an artist — he was a wages clerk who got a job in film animation after army service. He was soon employed on a comic called Knockout, for which he drew “Johnny Wingco”, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mike is perhaps best known for his famous Battle story “Darkie’s Mob“, written by John Wagner, and has cited this story as his favourite. It ran from August 1976 to June 1977 and some episodes were reprinted in 1981.
The story made a return in the Judge Dredd Megazine in the 2000s, telling the tale of Captain Joe Darkie who leads a rag-tag group of British soldiers behind Japanese lines in Burma.
First Appearance: Thunder Issue one, October 1970
Created by Alex Henderson (artist), writer unknown – information welcome
The Mark One Indestructible Robot, known as the Steel Commando, was a robot soldier built by the British army in World War Two, to help them defeat the Nazis.
Unfortunately, due to a glitch in his programming, he would only obey orders given by Ernie Bates, widely regarded as the laziest man in the army.
Decades later, the Steel Commando was reactivated, apparently by the second Doctor Sin, whom it erroneously believed to be Ernie, and appeared in the 2017 Scream! & Misty Halloween Special.
• Aside from “Zip Nolan” art (for Lion) on Book Palace and his credits on “Steel Commando” I’ve so far been unable to find much information about artist Alex Henderson, who’s listed as one of many artists for Lion on Bear Alley. If anyone can shed some light, we’ll update this entry – thank you.
First Appearance: 2000AD Annual 1979
Created by Pat Mills (Writer) and Horacio Lalia (Artist)
Revived for “The Vigilant” by Rob Williams and Luca Pizzari
An expert on the occult and demon fighter, Doctor Sin looked out for incursions of evil. After his death, Sin’s spirit contacted his grandson, a rapper named Sin Tax, and forced him to take on his mission and his name.
Doctor Sin was actually Pat Mills’ early take on “Judge Dredd” – a very different character indeed to how he ended up, created as part of an aborted strip titled “Black Magic”.
This Doctor Sin should not be confused with the character who last appeared in the 1992 2000AD Action Special, written by John Smith and drawn by John M. Burns, one of several heroes revived for that title which included IPC characters then publishers Egmont subsequently discovered they did not own, such as Steel Claw and The Spider.
• Pat Mills is the creator of 2000AD, co-creator of Misty and has created numerous characters for all the comics he’s worked on, as well as developing his own such as Requiem, Vampire Knight
• Argentinian artist Horacio Lalia worked in the British comics industry in the 1960s and 70s, initially through the Solano Lopez studios. He’s a prolific and much admired graphic novelist.
Pete’s Pocket Army
First Appearance: Buster, issue cover dated 28th April 1973, ending with the issue cover dated 18th February 1978
Created by writer Tom Tully and artist Francisco Solano Lopez
“Pete’s Pocket Army” revolved around schoolboy Pete who had effectively adopted (or been adopted by) six pocket-sized stranded aliens from the planet Liturnus, whose spacecraft had crashed near the town of Whitford. The alien castaways – Kon-Dar, Dokk, Moonie, Grunf, Tigg and Zapp – seemed perfectly happy to spend their time helping Pete get even with school bullies and Pete’s sneaky cousin, Julie.
• Francisco Solano López, who died on 12th August 2011 aged 82, was a major figure in the world of international comics, active for 60 years. As Steve Holland notes in his obituary for The Guardian, he was known in his native Argentina for the science-fiction epic El Eternauta (The Eternal Voyager); in Europe for the bleak political drama Ana and the dark police series Evaristo; and in Britain for “Kelly’s Eye”, whose title derived from the Eye of Zoltec, a fabulous jewel taken from an ancient statue in South America which makes Tim Kelly immune from harm.
“López was responsible for more than 1,000 pages of Kelly’s adventures,” Steve noted, “which often pitched the hero against bizarre supervillains such as Diablo, who could control the minds of men and animals, and the ex-Nazi scientist Von Skulz and his zoo of gigantic monsters. The tales became even more fantastic when Kelly, tricked by the scrawny scientist Doc Diamond, crossed dimensions to meet his evil doppelganger on Earth 2.”
Like most Argentineans, Solano López was affected by that country’s political turmoil (his writing partner Oesterheld became one of the political “desaparecidos” in 1977) and The Comics Journalnoted he was forced into exile several times when the authorities started casting a suspicious eye on his work, which often featured themes of corruption and repression — themes that flowered most distinctly in the comics he created during these exiles to Spain and elsewhere
Blake Edmonds aka Death Wish
First Appearance: Speed Issue One, February 1980 – continued in Tiger and the revived Eagle
Created by Barrie Tomlinson (writer) and Vanyo (artist)
Blake Edmonds was a handsome Formula 1 racing driver until an accident left him hideously disfigured. Hiding his deformity under a mask, he publicly announced that he would undertake any stunt offered to him, for big money, so long as there was a fair chance that he wouldn’t survive it. Against all the odds he survived many adventures without actually wanting to, becoming something of a hero – and fighting a variety of supernatural menaces, including Dracula himself!
• Writer Barrie Tomlinson, editor of several Fleetway titles including Roy of the Rovers and the revived Eagle in the 1980s, remembers “Death Wish” with fondness.
“I wrote all the Blake Edmonds stories,” Barrie, author of Real of the Rovers Stuff! and Comic Book Hero says. “Worked with Artist Vanyo that whole time. We created Blake’s mask. It’s very distinctive!
“It was a great series to write,” he adds. “A pleasure when Vanyo’s artwork arrived each week. It was so good it inspired me to improve what I was writing!”
• Spanish artist Eduardo Vano Ibarra (Vanyo) worked for IPC on 2000AD and Battle, and notably on “Death Wish” and “Ghost Squad” in Speed, Tiger and Eagle. There’s a profile of the artist, who died in 2006, here on Lambiek. He’s sometimes mixed up credit wise with his brother, Eduardo Vañó Ibarra. The Vañó brothers devoted a considerable part of their output to the foreign market, working for the United Kingdom through the agency Bardon Art from about 1965 onwards.
Great News for all Readers has a selection of “Death Wish” covers here.
Thunderbolt the Avenger
First Appearance: Buster, from issue cover dated 30th October 1965 and ran until 13th January 1968, the issue before Buster merged with Giggle
Creator information welcome (artists included Eric Dadswell).
Thunderbolt is one of the few pre-1970 comic characters owned by Rebellion, one of 14 characters including Buster from Buster comic that were part of an ownership agreement between IPC and Egmont in the 1990s.
Police Constable Mick Riley was not particularly highly regarded by his colleagues, but he lived a double life as the superheroic Thunderbolt the Avenger after he was given a special wristwatch containing ‘Thermo-Clyodine-Phostium’, a mysterious substance which gave Riley a variety of powers when he used the watch to send an electrical current into his body.
Riley thus became one of a very exclusive club of superheroes (the only other member was the Steel Claw) who effectively needed to electrocute themselves in order to go into action.
Forty years later, in the 2017 Scream and Misty Special, a masked female also calling herself Thunderbolt the Avenger appeared as part of a group of heroes gathered to fight a mysterious menace, a prelude to events in The Vigilant.
Her connection to Riley, if any, is as yet unrevealed.
Thunderbolt also appeared in at least the 1968 and 1969 Buster Books.
Not to be confused with ‘Thunder Boult’ who appeared in Buster between March 1964 and January 1965, a master magician and illusionist who used his skills to help the fight against Nazi Germany during World War Two.
First Appearance: “Dr. Mesmer’s Revenge” in Lion and Thunder, starting with issue cover dated 16th October 1971
Created by Donne Avenell (writer) and Carlos Cruz (artist)
When thieves stole a number of ancient Egyptian relics from him, the mysterious Dr Mesmer resurrected a 5000-year old mummy, Angor, to help him recover his collection. Using a cat statuette, Bulbul, the Black Messenger of the Dead, to control his unearthly minion, Mesmer’s ruthlessness in retrieving his stolen property soon turned him into a wanted criminal.
• Donne Avenell wrote a lot of comic strips for Lion, including “The Spider”, “The Phantom Viking”, “Oddball Oates” and “Dr. Mesmer’s Revenge”, drawn by Carlos Cruz). He would go on to co-write Powerman, a Nigerian superhero comic, with Norman Worker, drawn by Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland, and from 1978 to 1986 he wrote Axa, the erotic science fiction strip drawn by Enrique Badia Romero, which appeared in The Sun. He died in 2006 – there’s a guide to his work here on the UK Comics Wiki.
• Spanish artist Carlos Cruz González, known as Carlos Cruz, worked in Buenos Aires as a cover illustrator and cartoonist in the 1950s, before moving to Málaga in the 1960s, where he began working for Fleetway on comics such as Eagle, Tiger, Buster, Smash! and others. His most significant work in British comics was his three-year stint on the series “Dan Dare” in the relaunched Eagle from 1985 to 1988. Between 1988 and 2003, he worked on The Phantom in Sweden.
He’s still with us and his official site (in Spanish), is here
First Appearance: Jet Issue One – cover dated 1st May 1971). Ended in Buster (issue cover dated 21st October 1972)
Created by Tom Tully and Eric Bradbury
His early adventures recently announced as one of Rebellion’s collections later this year, “Von Hoffman’s Invasion” was the invention of writer Tom Tully who came up with a unique tale involving gargantuan animal attacks on hapless Brits, for a series drawn by Eric Bradbury that rightfully deserves its description of being one of the best – and maddest – British cult comics of all time.
In the story, insane evil Nazi genius Dr Von Hoffman, just released from prison for his war crimes, is far from the broken man his captors assume. Inspired by his experiments with a mechanical centipede, he happily sets about the development of an amazing enlarging gas to exact a diabolical revenge on Britain for opposing Germany in World War Two.
(That his laboratory has never been dismantled 25 years after his arrest and all its chemicals are still active is merrily glossed over, of course).
Utilising an army of giant critters and beasts to attack provincial towns, stately homes and army camps, the only thing that stands in his way are the plucky young brothers Barry and Joey Drake…
• British artist Eric Roy Bradbury, who died in May 2001 started out as a humour strip artist like “Blossom” and “Our Ernie” for Knockout in the 1950s, but it’s his adventures strips he’s best known for and much admired, including (to name but a few) the western strip “Lucky Logan” (alternating with Mike Western), and “Buffalo Bill” for Comet, “Mytek the Mighty” and “The House of Dolmann” for Valiant, “Phantom Force 5”, “The Leopard from Lime Street” (inking Mike Western’s pencils) and “Maxwell Hawke” for Buster, “Von Hoffman’s Invasion” for Jet, and “Cursitor Doom” for Smash!.
A mainstay of Battle Picture Weekly in the 1970s, his credits include “Joe Two Beans” and “Crazy Keller”, “Death Squad”, and he also drew “Hook Jaw” for Action. He worked on strops such as “Invasion” and and “Rogue Trooper” and “The Dracula Files” for Scream and “Doomlord” for Eagle. The British Comic Art blog has plenty of examples of his strips.
With glorious art from Bradbury, Von Hoffman’s Invasion Book One is just the latest collection of announced British comics collection on its way this year from Rebellion.
• Available from newsagents in the UK on 15th August 2018, The Vigilant will also be available to order from comic book stores through Diamond Distribution in the April edition of Previews
All characters and art © Rebellion Publishing. References include International Superhero, Lambiek and the U.K. Comics Wikia. Images with thanks to David Moloney of Great News for all Readers and Lew Stringer | Thanks also to Pat Mills and Barrie Tomlinson